Ahead of a Life-Changing Event, My Sister and I Found Comfort in Carmel

Updated 12/20/18

When I was in the sixth grade and my sister was in the eighth, we went to my first school dance dressed exactly alike. I wasn't sure what to expect and I was nervous, so when our mom took us shopping for outfits, I took the lead of my more experienced sibling and picked out a different shade of the same thing she chose to wear. It should be noted, too, that when it came time for me to attend my high school homecoming and senior prom, I didn't just wear versions of what my sister wore two years earlier—I wore the exact same dresses.

My sister has always been a large figure in my life, as older siblings tend to be. If Scout had Jem and Elizabeth had Jane, then I had Kimberly. I looked to her as a de facto role model, the person who always seemed calmer and more collected as we moved through the various milestones of our childhoods. She never once seemed annoyed that I happily lived in her shadow, even though she must have been, and as we grew up she maintained her place as my example. There were and still are fights, but there's a strong bond, too.

In October, my sister will give birth to her first child. It was big, exciting, and tear-inducing news when she and her husband announced it to our family last spring, and the ensuing months have been met with her familiar calm composure. Like usual, I've assumed my more apprehensive role. What will the baby be like? How will they do as parents? What can we all do to prepare? As I spent the summer wondering about how our lives will change—hers more than mine, of course—I began to get nostalgic about our sisterly relationship as it stands.

So I asked her if she wanted to go on a road trip with me from Los Angeles to Carmel-by-the-Sea, California in August, and I posed it as a last hurrah.

Kimberly Dawson Duckworth

"Of course I'm nervous!" she told me as we drove on an empty, dusty road between open fields somewhere in central California.

"You are?" I said, our voices sharing the same high pitch, interspersed with diffusions of laughter. "You're so calm, though! You haven't mentioned anything."

"I'm having my first baby, Kelly! It's scary!"

I can't explain exactly why I felt it was necessary to go on a trip with my sister before she has her baby. We don't routinely travel as a pair, and most of the time we spend together is with surrounding family and friends. But as we drove in the car, listening to the same '90s songs we sang as kids, I was comforted by the familiar dynamic of the music, her stories, and mine (which were followed, as usual, by her words of wisdom). I had one simple, unspoken mission: This trip was going to be the same as it always was.

It was the late afternoon when we arrived at the Getaway, which emerged at the bottom of a sloping hill that stretches into downtown Carmel. As we pulled into the entrance, guests were gathered under the shade of umbrellas in a courtyard, chatting and sipping from glasses of wine that were partially blocked by a line of colorful plants and flowers. It was complimentary happy hour at the hotel, although it looked a bit like a backyard party complete with a small blue fountain. In other circumstances, my sister and I would've poured ourselves drinks and struck up conversations, but she was seven months pregnant, and we had just spent six hours in a car.

It was nap time.

Kimberly Dawson Duckworth

When the Getaway was first built in 1959, its 20 or so rooms were stacked on two stories in an L-shaped design, looking out onto the parking lot. In that way, the hotel as it stands today resembles the practicality of its past, but beyond its white exterior and glossy blue doors, the hotel's recent renovation exemplifies modern design in small spaces.

Inside my room, bright white continues on the interior walls and centered bed, detailed with the addition of a gray gingham throw. Gold sconces and natural wood nightstands tie into the neutral palette, as a hint of the hotel's location comes through in a framed shot of a grayscale ocean wave. Kevin Krueger, general manager of the Getaway, let us look around for ourselves, and slipped away after mentioning that he'd be here for whatever we'd need.

"While there are so many elements of the renovation that I truly enjoy, from the guest rooms and lobby to the patio, what I enjoy most is the overwhelming positive response from the community," he told me later. "It has been extremely heartwarming."

The room has a calm, stylishly minimal look, one that elegantly frames the bolder personality of the bathroom. Black and turquoise geometric tiles stretch under a vanity complete with a wooden-frame mirror and matching teal pendant light, which pop against an oversize white shower.

We were excited about all the aspects of the room, but the most emphatic reaction came when my sister threw her feet on to the bed and shimmied her body into a C. "This bed is way better than the one I have at home," she said.

I sipped from a glass of wine as the fog rolled in across our room's wide window, slowly falling asleep myself. By the time we awoke it was well into the evening, so we decided to make the short walk downtown to dinner. As we passed the hotel lobby, guests were still sipping and chatting. Only this time, they were all aglow around a fire pit.

The Getaway
The Getaway

I'd like to tell you that at this point in the evening, still a couple of hours before midnight, that two young women went out on the town. But Carmel isn't like that, not really. The streets were empty by the time we left a restaurant up the road, which seemed to have stayed open just for us, and the fog had turned the tall trees and street lights into hazy figures on our path. It smelled like pine and ocean, and the air felt fresh as we walked through it. Neither one of us minded returning to the hotel—I was looking forward to our room's big shower—and we spent the rest of the night eating licorice and watching TV.

By all accounts, nothing had changed.

I've always woken up before my sister, which meant that I had much of the next morning to myself. The Getaway's lobby looks like a beach cottage of a Nancy Meyer's film: Bright white once again covers the wood walls and flows up to the high beamed ceiling, where a woven chandelier hangs above a navy couch and twin rattan side chairs. Books and games like tic-tac-toe are artfully arranged on a coffee table, which sits in between the fireplace and the entrance to the kitchen. I stood behind a few kids and waited my turn at the buffet breakfast (included with the stay) as their dad taught them the French equivalents of their choices.

"Waffles!" he would say excitedly, followed by their French term. "Eggs! Strawberries! Blueberries! Bread!" Croissants didn't need a translation, which made me laugh.

I took my plate and coffee to the window overlooking the patio, and Krueger and I chatted for a bit as I ate. This became our routine for the weekend. I would show up alone, take my plate to the spot by the window, and he would come by to say hello. Krueger told me that he takes such pride in the renovation because he had a hand in it—part of the reason the lobby is so sunlit is because he helped carry off the heavy drapes in his truck. It was important that the renovation not stray too far from the past, he said, but he still wanted the place to feel welcoming to visitors.

"Our goal is to provide an experience that is an escape from reality," Krueger noted.

Kelly Dawson
Kimberly Dawson Duckworth
Kelly Dawson

One day, my sister and I took off to the Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, which stretches for a few miles on the Pacific Ocean. Copper-colored cliffs provide a surreal backdrop to the many coves along well-trafficked walkways, which we strolled on slowly to admire the rocks and flowers and trees. My sister pointed out a seal and even a deer, and stepped carefully up small cliffs and on rocky beaches so that I could take photos of her holding an emerging bump. It was a quiet, peaceful afternoon that unfolded from a quiet and peaceful morning.

We breathed in the constant scent of sage and salty ocean air, rolled the windows down on somewhat bumpy roads beneath the trees, and forgot about time.

When we returned to downtown Carmel, we walked to get sandwiches at a deli and made it back to the Getaway in time for happy hour. And after yet another nap, we drove out to Salt Wood Kitchen & Oysterette for dinner. Its modern take on coastal design is similar to the Getaway—like its high white wood walls, wood finishes, and gold accents—and its locally sourced menu speaks to the seaside location. I slurped down an oyster, and we both enjoyed the shades and tastes of the strawberry salad. The salmon with roasted beets and the braised short rib with root vegetables were colorful and satisfying, too, and they ensured that we ended the trip just as it started: in our room's too-soft-to-leave bed.

Salt Wood Kitchen and Oysterette
Salt Wood Kitchen & Oysterette
Kimberly Dawson Duckworth

As the younger sibling, it's easy to forget that the eldest has it rough. The first born is the blank slate, the intimidating test that withstands parental inexperience. As parents figure it out and perhaps have more kids, the rules the eldest was forced to follow get flimsier and maybe even disappear. Did Kimberly have a curfew? Yes. Did our little brother? Debatable. Throughout the trip, we talked about her similar questions for the future, her fantasies of a new routine, and the scarier near-future prospect of what giving birth will be like.

It felt good to connect on this level, to move past the excitement of the announcement and the baby shower, and to talk openly about the complicated grayness of change.

My sister will tell you that I can overthink things, even if she is also as much of a planner as I am. We like to know what to expect, and perhaps that's why this trip to Carmel was needed for both of us. This vacation was beautiful and serene, and that was perfect. It didn't end up being an all-out last hurrah as much as it was a welcome opportunity to take things slow. In other words, change is coming, so for now, let's nap.

Essential Things to See and Do in Carmel

Use the Getaway's complimentary bikes to tour downtown Carmel. 

Make reservations at La Bicyclette, a European bistro in downtown Carmel, for lunch. 

Have dinner at Salt Wood Kitchen & Oysterette after watching the sunset. 

Order a craft cocktail at Seventh and Dolores in downtown Carmel. 

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